99 HOMES Review
Director: Ramin Bahrani
With a narrative centered around the housing market and the exploitation of American citizens through eviction, it’s easy to craft a black-and-white morality tale that paints a melodramatic portrait of how the rich abuse the poor. Director Ramin Bahrani’s 2015 film 99 HOMES is an impeccably cast, carefully written tragedy that showcases starsAndrew Garfield and Michael Shannon at their absolute A-game, and despite falling a tad short in its third act in addition to lacking in visual flair, otherwise presents one of the strongest character dramas of the year so far.
“Yeah, Crossfader is writing the review right now.”
Conceptually, Bahrani’s film is a home run (no pun intended), taking an almost DONNIE BRASCO-esque mob story, but replacing the Italo-American bars and nightclubs with white-collar offices and foreclosed Florida homes. Michael Shannon plays an antagonistic real estate agent-turned-bank representative, whose motivations and character traits are never purely malicious, making for a fantastically layered villain. Andrew Garfield’s performance is nuanced, naive, and pitifully realistic, showing how easily a man of low-income will cave to the whims of a power hungry magnate. The lead cast isn’t the only strong suit of the film; the entire supporting cast is brilliant as well, utilizing day players that really look like construction workers and evicted homeowners rather than roughed-up actors.
An evicted family watches a PA on the set of 99 HOMES
Shannon and Garfield’s ever-growing greed propels the film into its third act, but this is where the narrative also begins to stumble, falling into rather familiar rags-to-riches-to-alienation territory. Whilst Garfield’s conflicts remain consistently fascinating, Shannon slowly becomes too ham-fisted of an analogy for his own good, ultimately caving to the mob-genre expectations of characters whose greed gets the better of them. Nonetheless, the film’s greatest asset is that it’s never really black-and-white in its discussion of the greater socio-economic issue at hand.
The epitome of subtlety
Whilst Shannon’s performance is absolutely on point and his dialogue delivered with sharp Texan rhetoric, Bahrani’s screenplay suffers from a number of extended monologues that become a little try-hard in delivering the films overarching message of America’s dog-eat-dog, rigged economy. However, these faults hardly deter the film from its overall quality, since the overarching narrative is fresh enough to carry the film almost straight through its screenwriting pitfalls.
Where 99 HOMES really gets into trouble is in its visual execution. Calling it bland barely touches the surface of how Spartan the stylistic decisions of Bahrani’s film are, and whilst its apparent that the director is a fantastic dramatic director, he falls short in terms of delivering a visually audacious film. This is doubly disappointing when analyzing the film’s opening shot, which carries a beautiful, slow tracking, almost Spielbergian one-take quality. After this brief prologue, the film quickly stoops to shaky cam for quick coverage and feels rather dump truck directed despite its compelling cast.
We didn’t mean to drive him to drink
Bahrani has presented one of 2015’s strongest character dramas, and although he fails to figure out how to eloquently conclude his narrative without utilizing a rather abrasive cop-out, he has validated his ability to craft a tragic ensemble piece that takes full advantage of a wildly original premise. If he hadn’t undercut his narrative for a rather juvenile conclusion and crafted his visuals with a slightly keener eye for staging and framing, he could easily have made one of 2015’s most impressive films. Nonetheless, the fantastic performances and intriguing narrative make for a film that is contained, doesn’t overstay its welcome, and understands how to address a rather difficult subject without going overboard on exposition.